In The Pulpit

Several ministers served the congregation for a quarter century or more, but none longer than the Rev. John Pierce (1797-1849), who held First Parish together through regional theological upheaval that split many congregations.

Pierce played key roles in the creation of Brookline's first separatist (Baptist) congregation and what is now Andover Newton Theological School. He was the last minister to serve both town and church.

Less than a decade after Pierce's death, the pulpit was filled by his son-in-law, the Rev. Frederic Henry Hedge, a scholar of German language and philosophy who with Emerson had launched the transcendentalist movement and provided its name. Early transcendentalist meetings were known as Hedge's Club.

While at First Parish, Hedge was president of the American Unitarian Association, taught at Harvard Divinity School, and edited the Christian Examiner. Abolition, women's suffrage, and theological unity were among his leading causes.

Unitarians and Universalists since the 1800s have ordained women, but not until the 21st century did First Parish choose women as its spiritual leaders. During her interim ministry, the Rev. Judith Downing began the journey toward becoming a Welcoming Congregation, and in June 2004 officiated at the first same-sex marriage at First Parish.

The Rev. Martha Niebanck was the first woman called by the congregation as Senior Minister. Her co-ministry with the Rev. Dr. James Sherblom was another first for the congregation.

Rev. James Allen 1718-47
Rev. John Walley* 1746-47
Rev. Cotton Brown 1747-50
Rev. Robert Rogerson 1753-55
Rev. Nathaniel Potter 1755-59
Rev. Joseph Jackson 1760-96
Rev. John Pierce 1797-1849
Rev. Frederick N. Knapp 1847-56
Rev. Frederic H. Hedge 1856-72
Rev. Howard N. Brown 1873-95
Rev. William H. Lyon 1896-1915
Rev. Abbot Peterson 1915-42
Rev. Carl Bihldorff 1942-75
Rev. Michael Boardman 1975-87
Rev. Thomas J. S. Mikelson** 1987-88
Rev. David A. Johnson, Emeritus 1988-2003
Rev. Judith Downing** 2003-05
Rev. Martha F. Niebanck, Emeritus 2005-12
Rev. Dr. Jim Sherblom 2005-16
Rev. Maria Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa*** 2013-2016
Rev. Rebecca M. Bryan** 2016-

* Served unofficially during Rev. Allen's final years

** Interim Minister

*** Assistant Minister